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Growing up Canadian While Living Abroad
by Geraldine Mac Donald-Moran

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How do Canadians celebrate traditions when living away from Canada?

Whether you are Anglo-Saxon, Francophone; German, Italian, Hungarian, Greek or numerous other ethnicities, languages and religions represented in Canada, it is likely that the tree and all its trimmings have been picked up and packed away for another year: The floor has been swept clear of pine needles and the wreath has been removed from the front door.

If your family is of Chinese ancestry, you are most likely about to embark on plans for the upcoming New Year festivities in February. If the family is Jewish, Hanukah has been revered and the Menorah have been tucked away for now.

There is such an array of celebration and tradition in Canada that it seems unfeasible to mention the complete assemblage with their differing, varied customs: We truly have an expansive Nation, one that incorporates multi-culturalism as a defining feature of what it means to be Canadian.

So when we are asked, "how do you celebrate traditions in Canada?" it is often difficult to come up with a brief answer: one of which, most times, will depend on your family's heritage.

Frankly, it is enriching to observe heterogeneous ways of life; thus, more than one set of customs, because they stem from many backgrounds that are historically diverse with extensive roots. The variety truly makes our country 'a land so free and wild' in more ways than one.

Still, whether resident or in our homes away from home, it is likely that Canadians are celebrating creatively, in ways that will honour their personal customs as well as respect the traditions of the host society in which they live; temporarily or permanently.

When the comment surfaces, one that suggests that our culture is too varied and that customs get lost in their sea of multiplicity; a most natural, Canuck response might be- EH?

EH? What's up with that?

True, that bigger is not always better and that more sometimes means less but not in the case of celebrating Canadian culture. Grade school history taught us that the country was a Nation of many-- a fact that hits home still today-and that multi-cultural celebration is the merriment of all.

Respect for our diversity, essentially means that we harmonize with a global village; one that goes beyond Canada's borders and weaves itself into the root origins of Nations worldwide.

Since making comparisons is human nature, a foreign host (to Canadians who live abroad) may generalize and compare their own belief systems, value sets and customs to the perceived notions they have of life in other cultures.

We too, as foreigners in distant lands, may be prone to such comparisons if the circumstances are not favourable; since complying with a host culture's life-style is not always easy.

Consider though, that sharing culture while maintaining personally significant traditions is educational, inspirational and rewarding (except in any circumstances where the display of cultural tendencies may get you into trouble with societal law) and if you are privileged to have an International union, you and your family will have multiple reasons to celebrate.

Which cultural traditions do you observe in your home away from home?

A response to those who inquire about Canadian traditions might be one that includes a reference to 'Heinz 57 steak sauce' and a declaration of what it means to be Canadian.

"A little bit of everything in there, just to spice things up a bit."

But some practical tips about how to observe your Canadian customs away from Canada may include any of the following:

  1. Speak to your children (or other eager ears) and tell them stories about growing up Canadian- the one about walking three, up-hill 'miles' to and from school in six foot snow drifts is always an eye-popping, crowd pleaser!
  2. Favour tendencies and traditions that are significant to you; holiday festivities, social mannerisms and gestures, gastronomy and dress (spell colour, flavour, neighbour etc. with the u!)
  3. Teach someone the National anthem (OK, you can look up the words online), folkloric songs or anything from a Gordon Lightfoot album. The tune to Hockey night in Canada can be catchy as well.
  4. Hang a big map of Canada on your living room wall (is this going too far?); otherwise, a Maple leaf flag will do fine in your garden.
  5. And if you engage in any great debates about multi-culturalism, the Father's of Confederation, any of the historical wars between the British; French, Americans or the Métis and Native Bands, remember one thing…Canada has been a Nation to many but with tolerance, and acceptance, it will always be a welcome home to all.
Vive la Difference!
© Geraldine Mac Donald-Moran

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